Workable Tools and Holy Grails

I recently pulled the trigger on a new brace, picking up a Stanley 2101A in addition to my “hold all” brace that I have had for about a year. There wasn’t anything wrong with the holdall, it’s a great brace and I’ve built two nice stools with it. But the 2101 sits in a class of tools I call “grails.”

Most of these holy relics have been given grail status by being blessed by Christopher Schwarz (see, for example, the miller falls 42 and the stanley 47 bit gauge).  I have yet to purchase a tool that Schwarz has recommended and been disappointed, so historically he’s been spot on.  I do wonder, however, if I am also falling prey to the recent (maybe?) societal need to buy the “best” version of a product to show people that you’re in the know.  Ignoring the meta angst of this post, I do love the ratchet and chuck mechanism on the new brace.  The plastic handles, not so much.

There’s a weird anxiety of having a tool you know is fine and works for you, while simultaneously knowing that there is something out there that is considered to be better. I love my Stanley type 11 smoothing plane and jack plane, but part of me wonders if I love them because they’re considered to be one of the best versions of that plane made by Stanley.  Is it because they actually work better than a type 17 or 18?  Probably not. At least at my skill level, probably not.  I’m also not implying that The Schwarz, or any other respected reviewer of tools, generates this anxiety.  I believe that it’s symptomatic of the level of choice that’s available to me, an American living in the 2010s with access to the internet.  I now have a significant amount of societal pressure to spend inordinate amounts of time researching every purchase so that I don’t appear foolish to the rest of my peer group.  Yay modernity.

Depsite of (inspite of?) this, there is a definite joy in something that is useful and beautifully made.  It’s part of the reason I hunt the grail tools when I can.  For example, the  dividers below do the same thing, almost equally well.  One I just use (flat bladed) and the others actually make me happy when I use them.  Which is pretty shallow, but why waste your time doing something that you enjoy with tools that don’t make you happy, even if they work well.

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